By Oscar Johnson
Navigating distance learning for that next degreeNavigating distance learning for that next degreeWith the advent of the New Year, many are no doubt mulling new career resolutions - or dusting off old ones. Boosting or shifting careers with another degree via a distance-learning program is in the picture for some. For others, perhaps it should be.
In recent years, overseas universities have enticed professionals here and elsewhere with the notion of earning a degree while clinging to the security of a current job. It's easy to see why: Many have multiplied incomes with an MBA, or scratch an itch to enter the IT sector. Others traded the title of teacher for "professor" and tenure. Some find more learning helps carve out a custom career in The Land of the Rising Sun.
Don't get me wrong; this is not a sales pitch. There's plenty of that out there for those who do the research needed to find an accredited program to meet their personal and professional needs. Before that, however, it helps to know the method of distance learning that best suits you.
Choices range from snail-mail correspondence to "e-learning," which includes basic Internet technology, special software or CD-ROM tutorials. On the high end are online programs that let you interact with faculty and classmates in real time. To decide which is best for you, a little New Year's soul searching may be in order.
For starters, how much support do you really need from an institution you may never set foot in? The acutely self-disciplined have a smorgasbord of viable options, from snail mail to cyberspace. Learning styles more dependent on traditional academic structures, however, may best be suited to online interactive technologies.
Secondly, what can you afford? It's not just the money, which can range from a few million yen to tens of millions of yen. That one-, two- or more-year degree will also cost scores of hours from your social and/or family life for the duration of the program. Poor assessment of this apparent no-brainer can tax the motivation needed to see it through - and the hard-earned yen you'll likely pay out at dollar, pound or euro prices for tuition and materials. While programs can be flexible in the time allotted to complete a degree, dragging it out may cost you extra.
Some institutions may require exams to be taken locally at embassies or other sites. Others may mandate occasionally showing up for classes or meetings in Japan, elsewhere in the region or even at the home campus. Those that do, usually aim for a higher quality program that will cost more in tuition, travel expenses and time. With this in mind, you're ready to shop.
Many universities in Europe, North America Australia and elsewhere offer accredited degree programs via distance learning in a variety of fields. Depending on your needs, it may be best to start your search with overseas universities that have the degree you're looking for to see if it can be earned from afar. You may be surprised at those that do.
About 90,000 USD, 2 years and a few on-campus classes, for example, can get you an MBA from Duke University. For a more reasonable 8,680 GBP, the University of London offers an MA in education; or 2,500 GBP gets you an undergraduate certificate in information systems and either computing or e-commerce from the University of Portsmouth. Australia's Deakin University offers a buffet of online MA programs from International Relations to Arts and Entertainment.
California-based Anaheim University locally touts its online MBA and TESOL programs, and just unfurled another for international communications. Its showcase liaison office in Tokyo is not only an edge in the race for unabashed self-promotion. It also means locally based support staff and seminars for students. That's hard for most overseas universities to match.
While I'm not endorsing these, or any other distance programs, they do provide a range of credible options that others can be measured by. There are countless so-called diploma mills out there to beware of. Sometimes "accredited" can be used much like the term "fresh" in fast-food advertising. I'd stick with universities fully accredited by the education department or ministry of their home country - and that doesn't necessarily mean taking their word for it.
Another caveat is technology. Advanced video streaming and chat rooms can provide on-campus-like lectures and class discussions. Not all self-styled online programs, however, use or adequately apply such technology. Many are little more than online text and e-mail access to a professor's inbox. If you're hankering for an interactive and supportive program, it's good to seek those that allow trial access to see what's in store. Determine how accessible faculty is as well as what kind of technical support is available.
A comprehensive list of accredited U.S. graduate schools with online programs is at: onlinegraduateschool.tripod.com. Distance Gradschools.com has an international list at: programs.gradschools.com/distance/international_business.html. Global Daigaku.com, offers online info and consultations in Tokyo for those planning their next educational move: www.globaldaigaku.com/global/en/index.html.